• Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 8:11 AM

    If North Korea goes ballistic, blame China!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2013-03-29 at 10.10.48 PM

  • Friday, March 29, 2013 at 6:48 AM

    My Good Friday Sermon

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I grew up the son of a preacher man. One of the things I found most dispiriting about this was having to listen to the same sermon over and over again, knowing full well that my Daddy expected me to be moved by the Holy Spirit anew each time.

    In fact, by the time I was ten, my mind, body and soul had become inured to “inspired” sermons from the pulpit, all of which I could parrot (almost verbatim) from my church pew. Only the wife of a vainglorious politician could possibly relate.

    Yet I never grew tired of the rituals that attended the Easter season. Indeed, I could never disguise the spirit of suspended animation that got me through it all — even as others affected the countenance each occasion warranted (i.e., by being appropriately maudlin on Good Friday to mourn the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and joyous on Easter Sunday to celebrate his resurrection).

    goodfridayNever mind that my animated countenance was due entirely to the anticipation of what fun Easter Monday would bring — as the first beach holiday of the year in the Caribbean Commonwealth.

    But oh the guilt I suffered for supplanting religious pathos with this hedonistic inspiration during Christianity’s holiest days!

    Thank God I deduced before my puberty was in full bloom that He will forgive me: Not only for my sinful thoughts, but also for the diabolical pleasure I derived from playing one of the soldiers who flogged Jesus Christ (as he crawled his way to Golgotha) in the passion plays our Church performed every Easter.

    Therefore, here’s my own Good Friday Sermon. I address it particularly to those Christian parents who will force their children to abide church services throughout this weekend just as my parents forced me to do when I was a child:

    God will forgive the little ones for not getting all worked up each year for the scripted homage to His son’s crucifixion and resurrection. He will even forgive them for not writhing with the Holy Spirit on cue at revivals, at which it seemed only the souls of mischievous children, not those of sinful adults, needed salvation.

    Moreover, He will not ruin their lives if the only spirit that moves them at Easter time is the one they hope will get them to the beach on Easter Monday; trust me!

    goodfridaybHowever, if you really must wallow in the macabre passions of the season, I suggest you buy the DVD of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and watch it tonight. Because, more than any Easter homily or play, this movie will evoke the funereal emotions and convey (in refreshing and entertaining fashion) the expiatory significance of these familiar words:

    For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

    (The Holy Bible, John 3:16)

    Amen.

    That said, it would probably surprise none of you to learn that the elders of my church damned me to Hell long ago for being a “backsliding reprobate.” But this had more to do with the Pharisaic standards that govern conduct in most churches than any unpardonable sin I may have committed.

    Indeed, I believe it is duly recorded on God’s Heavenly scroll that I am more spiritual, and live a more Christ-like life, than almost all of the tartuffes who bored me to distraction with their sermons in my youth!

  • Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 7:06 AM

    Aung San Suu Kyi Becoming Democratic Mascot of Burma’s Military Dictatorship

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The only meaningful step President Thein Sein has taken towards democracy was to release Suu Kyi in 2010 from nearly 15 years of house arrest.

    But he has since co-opted this former ‘democracy icon’ into his political establishment – as leader of the loyal (i.e., powerless) opposition in parliament. And nothing demonstrates the extent to which she has been co-opted quite like Suu Kyi’s deafening silence about the ongoing ethnic cleansing of minority Muslims by majority Buddhists. Especially given that the UN has called Myanmar’s Muslims ‘the world’s most persecuted people.’

    Yet, when challenged to explain her silence, the Buddhist Suu Kyi demurred, saying self-righteously that she was not taking sides to preserve her impartiality to help them reconcile. But just imagine how much worse the ethnic cleansing of minority Muslims by majority Hindus in India would have been if the Hindu Gandhi had not been so vocal in condemning it…?

    (“Obama’s Historic Trip to Myanmar: Too Soon?” The iPINIONS Journal, November 12, 2012)

    After I published this take on Nobel Peace Prize-winning Aung San Suu Kyi’s foray into politics in Myanmar (aka Burma), a number of purported Asia experts accused me of being cynical and uninformed.

    MYANMAR-MILITARY-ARMED FORCES DAYWell, I wonder what my critics have to say about the images of Suu Kyi that went viral yesterday. For they show her sitting quite comfortably, as a token female fixture, among hundreds of military men as they presided over the hallmark of all dictatorships, the annual military parade. There can be no denying that these images provide clear vindication of my informed cynicism.

    Incidentally, she struck a solitary figure because she wasn’t just the only woman but the only person sitting there who ever harbored any aspirations of turning Burma into a bona fide democracy.

    Perhaps my critics needed to see these pictures to be convinced that my cynicism was wholly warranted.  But I knew Suu Kyi was hopelessly compromised when she failed to condemn the violence cited above. The sectarian violence is undemocratic enough; but her silence provides tacit approval of it, and of the military’s reliance on it to justify its dictatorship.

    International human rights groups have documented abuses by the Burmese military in its campaigns against ethnic militias, including the use of child soldiers and civilians as human minesweepers.

    (New York Times, March 27, 2013)

    Aung San Suu Kyi walks to her oath at the lower house of parliament BurmaEven worse though is the way military propaganda now flows from Suu Kyi’s lips the way democratic principles once did. For example, I doubt anyone who agitated for her freedom could ever have imagined her referring to a strong military, not a free citizenry, as the key ingredient in developing democracy in her country. Talk about Orwellian doublespeak! Or perhaps she’s just suffering a profound case of Stockholm Syndrome…?

    But again, just imagine how oxymoronic (i.e., utterly unthinkable) it would have been to have just cause to associate Gandhi with a military dictatorship in any fashion….

    Burma’s top military commander, General Min Aung Hlaing, told the gathering the army will continue to play a central political role in order to move the country toward what he called a ‘modern democracy.’

    (Voice of America, March 27, 2013)

    All that is left now is for Suu Kyi to accept an appointment as the military junta’s minister of democratic freedoms….

    Related commentaries:
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  • Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 7:57 AM

    Tiger No. 1 Again! But…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    With his eighth win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Monday, Tiger Woods finally reclaimed the world No. 1 ranking he lost four years ago. No doubt you recall that his downfall began in the wake of a sensational bimbo eruption that destroyed his marriage and sapped him of the aura of invincibility that was as key to his game as his putting stroke.

    e385ab884658420a2d0f6a706700ddde_originalUnfortunately, Tiger and his abiding sponsor, Nike, are taking heat today for marking his restoration with an ad featuring a crouching Tiger – in his signature in pre-putting position – with this caption:

    Winning takes care of everything.

    Granted, given his notorious penchant for promiscuous sex, Nike’s more familiar caption, “Just Do It,” might have conjured up too many salacious images. But why settle for one that reeks of arrogant, in-your-face vindication? Not to mention its suggestion that  Tiger’s public apologies and well-publicized stint in rehab for sex addiction were all a waste of time (or, perhaps more accurately, just PR stunts).

    This is why it might shock you to learn that I not only agree with every word in this caption but may have inspired Tiger to begin using them as a motivational mantra years ago. Specifically, here’s the prescience I demonstrated in dismissing his attempt to rehabilitate his public image by embarking on a public-apology tour:

    Winning tournaments in his inimitable fashion is the only way now to eradicate bacchanalian images of his private life from public consciousness – even if not from the tabloids.  And only this will give his understandably spooked corporate sponsors [like Accenture who dropped him like a hot potato] the cover they need to feature him as their spokesman once again…

    (“Tiger Escapes to a ‘Safe Haven,'” The iPINIONS Journal, December 14, 2009)

    Let me hasten to clarify that I have nothing against rehab. I just think that if Tiger were sincere he would have, well, just done it instead of making such a public spectacle of it

    At any rate, despite agreeing with the caption, I think it was a mistake for him to approve this ad. Foremost because it suggests that he is possessed of the same arrogance, self-indulgence, and insensitivity that wrecked his marriage … and precipitated professional downfall. It might have occurred to a truly rehabilitated Tiger, for example, that such an ad makes a mockery of his public claims of having a broken and contrite heart worthy of forgiveness and redemption.

    reg_634.TigerWoods.Vonn3.mh.031813Now we know why his wife refused to take him back. Which makes his new girlfriend, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, seem like an even bigger fool for love, or an even bigger bitch for (Tiger-orbit) fame, than widely suspected….

    But the more relevant reason I think this ad was a mistake is that it is so plainly premature:

    Tiger knows better than anyone that he will not be able to fully redeem his professional reputation until he wins another five Majors (i.e., from among the Masters in April, U.S. Open in June, British Open in July, and PGA Championship in August).

    (“Tiger Won…Finally,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 5, 2011)

    Except that his five-year stint in professional purgatory makes the challenge this now 37-year-old Tiger faces in this respect very grave indeed:

    I am convinced that Tiger will win again – and not just some rinky-dink tournament, but a major. But to give you a sense of how difficult it is for one player to dominate the majors the way Tiger once did, just bear in mind that the last 13 major championships have been won by 13 different players.

    (“Tiger, Tiger…Losing Fight,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 15, 2011)

    Related commentaries:
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  • Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 7:42 AM

    Supreme Court Hears Legal Fight for/against Same-Sex Marriage

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Today the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. And tomorrow it will hear arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act (aka DOMA), a federal law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. DOMA also holds that states that ban same-sex marriages are not obligated to recognize such marriages or provide any of the thousands of benefits that accrue to heterosexual marriages — even if same-sex marriages are entered into in states where they are legal.

    164526889It’s an indication of the Super Bowl-like interest in these cases that spectators began queuing up for a courtroom seat as early as last Thursday.

    And legal, political, and religious pundits are doing their best to ape sports analysts by offering all kinds of putative insights on how the court will rule. Most notable is speculation that, because conservative Chief Justice John Roberts has a lesbian first cousin, he will side with liberal justices in favor of gay rights in each case.

    I agree. Not least because conservatives have a dubious record of abandoning their political and religious convictions whenever it suits their personal interests. Anti-gay Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio demonstrated this in dramatic fashion just weeks ago when he suddenly came out in support of same-sex marriage after his son came out as gay.

    Yet, to be fair to Justice Roberts, an August 5, 2005 report by the New York Times makes clear that he has a record of providing pro-bono legal advice to gay activists. Which is why it’s unfortunate that his lesbian first cousin has been giving media interviews letting the world know that she will be seated front and center for arguments as his special guest and insinuating that, based on their relationship alone, “he will do the right thing.” Again, Roberts is no Portman. But, evidently, she’s so desperate for her 15 minutes of fame that she doesn’t care if she undermines his objectivity and credibility. Hell, she’s so vain she probably thinks these cases are just about her….

    Yet, ironically, her sideshow could force Roberts to vote against her interest in a misguided attempt to really prove that he’s no Portman (i.e., just another conservative who abandons his legal convictions whenever it suits his personal interest).

    SupremeCourtJustices_2012_032620121All the same, I am willing to bet my life savings that the Court will overturn California’s ban and rule DOMA unconstitutional. To do otherwise would make a mockery of the equal protection, liberty, and Full Faith and Credit clauses of the Constitution.

    Mind you, I can see conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas torturing legal reasoning to further their political/moral opposition not just to gay marriage but homosexuality itself. But that leaves seven of them to do the right thing, including conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy who has a record of opinions on the Supreme Court that are even more supportive of gay equal rights than Roberts’s pro bono work in private practice.

    And, just for the record, it is demonstrably specious to argue that gay civil rights should be determined by state legislatures or referenda. Because if Black civil rights were left to these devices, Blacks would still be sitting in the back of the bus and using separate but (un)equal places of public accommodations. In other words, just as it took Supreme Court decisions to validate equal rights for Blacks, it will take Supreme Court decisions to do the same for gays.

    Finally, apropos of having a record in this respect, I have written too many commentaries on these issues to count. But I shall let excerpts from just two of them suffice as my contribution to the babel of punditry masquerading today as informed analyses.

    With respect to same-sex marriage:

    I believe it is a self-evident truth that not allowing gays to marry is an even greater violation of the fundamental civil/equal rights all citizens should enjoy than not allowing Blacks to vote.

    (“Same-Sex Marriage Now Legal in New York,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 27, 2011)

    And with respect to DOMA:

    If the Court rules that same-sex marriages are constitutionally protected, all states would be obligated not only to recognize them but also to accord them all of the marital rights, privileges, and benefits traditional marriages enjoy.

    Incidentally, this Act is so patently unconstitutional that former President Bill Clinton, who signed it into law (for craven political reasons), has been in the vanguard of those calling for its repeal.

    (“Supreme Court to Rule on Same-Sex Marriage,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 10, 2012)

    Related commentaries:
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  • Monday, March 25, 2013 at 7:39 AM

    No (Equitable) Justice in ICC Prosecuting Kenya’s Kenyatta

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Here, in part, is the reasonable doubt I expressed last year after the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta, on charges of crimes against humanity.

    I wonder what evidence the ICC possesses that ties Uhuru and the three other prominent Kenyans it indicted to the rapes and murders that were committed. And am I the only one who finds it a little too convenient that, of the four indicted, two of them supported [President] Kibaki (namely, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Cabinet Secretary Francis Muthaura) and two supported [presidential candidate] Odinga (namely, former Education Minister William Ruto and radio presenter Joshua arap Sang)?

    Frankly, this seems a contrived attempt by the ICC to forestall more score-settling and communal violence by saying, in effect, a pox on both your houses.

    What’s more, I doubt any of these men had any hands-on involvement in any of the violence at issue. And if the charges stem just from inciting and organizing what the BBC described as ‘a bloody round of score-settling and communal violence,’ then surely no two people are more responsible than Kibaki and Odinga themselves. Which makes this rather like blaming Hitler’s generals but not Hitler himself, no?

    (“Uhuru Kenyatta…Indicted on War Crimes, The iPINIONS Journal, January 24, 2012)

    Well, it now seems my suspicions about the ICC’s evidence were wholly warranted. Because on March 11, 2013, the ICC dropped all charges against Uhuru’s co-defendant, Francis Mathaura, citing the lack of credibility of its star witness.

    More important, though, given that the ICC based its indictment against Uhuru primarily on this same witness’s testimony, it can only be a matter of time before prosecutors swallow their pride and drop all charges against him too.

    _66450930_66449134Not surprisingly, Uhuru is pressing his case. Specifically, he dispatched his defense lawyer to The Hague last week to prevail upon the ICC to drop all charges against him in light of its Muthaura decision.

    But, not surprisingly, the ICC seems determined to save face. For here is how chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, responded:

    We will not drop the charges. It’s not a question of if it goes to trial but when it goes to trial.

    We still have difficulties with witness intimidation; this is ongoing; it’s not stopping; and I think it will get more serious.

    (Reuters, March 20, 2013)

    To be fair, prosecutors insist they have other witnesses who can testify to hearing Uhuru order Kibaki supporters to attack Odinga supporters. But this still begs the question: If the witness intimidation that forced the ICC to dismiss charges against Muthaura “is ongoing [and] will get more serious,” isn’t it more likely than not that such intimidation will succeed in compromising the testimony of any witness against Uhuru? After all, he is not only the richest man in Kenya but now the most powerful one too, having been elected as its new president earlier this month.

    But let me hasten to clarify that my doubts about the case against him stemmed not from my high regard for his ability to pervert the course of justice. Rather they stemmed from my low regard for the ICC’s evidence against him. Not to mention its indefensible record of selective prosecutions against politicians from poor and less powerful countries. For example:

    If Taylor of Liberia can be hauled to The Hague and tried for aiding and abetting atrocities that were committed in Sierra Leone, why shouldn’t Putin of Russia face the same fate for aiding and abetting similar atrocities now being committed in Syria?

    (“Liberian president Charles Taylor Convicted in The Hague,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 27, 2012)

    2f5385965e2f9ec108a488a023fd0388.articleApropos of this, it is noteworthy that the ICC elected Bensouda, an African woman from The Gambia, as chief prosecutor by consensus in December 2011. For there’s no gainsaying that it did so primarily to counter the growing perception that it is a court of White men sitting in biased judgment against Black men.

    No doubt Bensouda hoped to counter this perception further by going out of her way to hire three women as “Special Advisers” to the court, one of whom is also Black.

    Never mind the reverse discrimination inherent in the ICC seeking justice only for victims of crimes against humanity committed by African leaders. For there’s also no gainsaying that it has steadfastly ignored calls to seek justice for victims of similar crimes committed by Western leaders, most notably, former U.S. President George W. Bush and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair with respect to Iraq. Where’s the equitable justice in that?

    In fact, Iraqi victims are particularly worthy of ICC attention given that no less a person than former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is on record declaring in a September 16, 2004 BBC report that:

    The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was an illegal act that contravened the UN charter.

    Come to think of it, the loved ones of dead American and British soldiers who died in vain might also derive some consolation from the ICC indicting Bush and Blair….

    In any case, I am willing to bet my life savings that President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta will never set foot in The Hague; and, if convicted in absentia, he will never serve a day in jail. Honestly, all things considered, who could blame him if he proceeded now to use his position as president, as well as prevailing anti-ICC sentiment throughout Africa, to shield himself from arrest?

    Nothing demonstrates what an utter joke these arrest warrants are quite like Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir still living a care-free lifestyle despite the ICC issuing an arrest warrant three years ago – accusing him of genocide for orchestrating the mass killing of Black Africans by Arab militias in the Darfur region of his country. For he has traveled since then with impunity throughout the Continent and, as if to show that he has powerful friends who not only accept but share his authoritarian way of governing, he’s currently on a state visit to China.

    (“ICC Arrest Warrant for Gaddafi is a Joke, The iPINIONS Journal, June 29, 2011)

    Related commentaries:
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  • Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 8:09 AM

    Well, here’s to repeating history…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 9.09.13 PM

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  • Friday, March 22, 2013 at 6:57 AM

    Israel Bestows Highest Honor Upon Obama

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Israel has become [as sacred a cow in American politics as Mom, apple pie … and guns] because, on the one hand, evangelical Christians consider its security key to their salvation; and on the other hand, politicians of every stripe consider pandering about its security key to their election.

    (“Americans More Jewish than Jews in Israel,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 7, 2013)

    Israel made quite a show of laying out the red carpet for President Obama this week; so much so that you’d think he was the apocryphal Black Moses coming to ensure that the Promised Land the canonical White Moses led the Israelites to will remain theirs for all eternity.

    paper_IMG_0204_whFrankly, Israel could not have lavished more praise on Obama or shown him with more gratitude, capping off his first visit there as president, as it did last night, by awarding him its highest civic award – The Presidential Medal of Distinction.

    Israeli President Shimon Peres made a point of noting that Obama is the first sitting president of the United States to receive this award.  Which is highly significant – especially in light of all the U.S. presidents who have been hailed as better friends of Israel.

    Indeed, the mark of Obama’s character in this respect is that he has continually defied the practice of American politicians pandering to Israelis as if they can do no wrong. How ironic, and encouraging, then that this might be the distinction that made him so eminently worthy of this award.

    For example, he not only gave a Cairo-like speech before thousands of Israeli students yesterday; he actually made the case for Palestinian statehood better than any Palestinian ever has or could:

    It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day… Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.

    (The Jerusalem Post, March 21, 2013)

    Can you imagine any Republican ever daring to speak this self-evident truth to Jews in America, let alone to Jews in Israel? But what is most instructive here is that the Jews in Israel reacted by giving Obama a standing ovation. Whereas, had he said this in America, Republican politicians and right-wing pundits would have reacted by damning him to Hell as a greater traitor to Israel than Judas was to Christ.

    Apropos of which, you could be forgiven for being as shocked to see Israelis bestow this award upon Obama as many were to see Americans re-elect him in a landslide. After all, the conservative media spared no expense during last year’s presidential campaign propagating the Big Lie that Obama harbors Islamist-like hatred of Israel.

    Obama hates Israel and he’s demonstrated it time and time again.

    (Influential talk-show host Mark Levin, FOX Nation, July 27, 2012)

    U.S. Republican presidential candidate Romney stands with Rabbi Rabinovitz during his visit at the Western Wall in JerusalemRemarkably, though, their most useful idiot in this respect was none other than Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney — who made the following refrain a key part of his stump speech:

    President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus. He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace. He has also violated a first principle of American foreign policy, which is to stand firm by our friends.

    (The Los Angeles Times, May 19, 2011)

    Not to mention the blatant hypocrisy inherent in Republicans damning Obama for not visiting Israel during his first term. After all, these are the same folks who voiced nary a peep about George W. Bush waiting not until the first year of his second term (as Obama did), but until the last year of his second term to do so. Even worse is their cult-like silence about their Republican god, Ronald Reagan, and his successor, George H.W. Bush Sr., never bothering to visit at all.

    But almost everything Republicans say these days gives one the impression that they live in a parallel universe. This was brought into stark relief when they were not disabused of their Obama-hates-Israel schtick even after Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared on American TV that Obama has done more to guarantee his country’s national security than any president in U.S. history.

    I too have tried in vain to debunk this ironic phenomenon of American politicians presuming to know and care more about Israel’s security than Israeli politicians. I did so in the commentary referenced above, as well as in many others, including “Was Hagel Nominated as Defense Secretary for the U.S. or Israel,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 31, 2013 and “Obama Dissing PM Netanyahu?” The iPINIONS Journal, September 12, 2012.

    Well, perhaps the laudatory words of commendation President Peres offered at last night’s medal ceremony will provide the antidote Republicans need to cure them of this strain of Obama derangement syndrome. His words can be fairly summed up with the following quote:

    It is my privilege to present you with our country’s highest honor. This award speaks to your tireless work to make Israel strong. Your presidency has given the closest ties between Israel and the United States a new height, a sense of intimacy, a vision for the future.

    (The Jerusalem Post, March 21, 2013)

    President Obama's Official Visit To Israel And The West Bank - Day OneFinally, it would be remiss of me not to remark on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s transformational attitude towards, and interaction with, Obama during this visit. Granted, Obama’s landslide re-election last November and Netanyahu’s near-defeat last January meant that Netanyahu’s political survival required him to echo Peres’s laudatory words, as he duly did.

    But to see him schmoozing with Obama (exchanging public compliments and private jokes like high-school girlfriends), you’d never know it was Netanyahu’s purported distrust of Obama that imbued Republican lies about his support for Israel with righteous indignation.

    So here’s to strange bedfellows. In fact, it would not surprise me in the least if Netanyahu helps Obama broker the peace between Israelis and Palestinians that has bedeviled U.S. presidents for over 60 years. And, as for being eminently worthy of awards, this would make Obama finally worthy of that Nobel Peace Prize he received in 2009 … for doing nothing.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 5:44 AM

    March Madness: My Picks for the NCAA Final Four

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    images

     

    To be honest, I am not a big fan of college Basketball. Frankly, I know few people who are. After all, most people’s interest seems limited to selecting teams on a whim from brackets in their office pools.

    s-OBAMA-FINAL-FOUR-largeBut participating in this selection process (aka bracketology) has become as obligatory for political/social/cultural commentators as it is for sports analysts.

    Indeed, it’s an indication of the sheer madness this tournament incites that President Obama makes an annual show of filling out his brackets (as he did yesterday), making sure this year to give equal (Title IX) time and effort to his selections for the men’s and women’s tournaments.

    So here are my picks:

    Men’s Final Four

    Louisville, Georgetown, Indiana, Ohio State

    Champion

    Ohio State

    Women’s Final Four

    Baylor, California, Duke, Connecticut

    Champion

    Baylor

  • Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 5:51 AM

    Iraq 10 Years Later…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    imagesThe invasion of Iraq is now generally recognized as such an unmitigated failure that it is more fitting to commemorate than celebrate its 10th anniversary today.

    Of course, listening to former VP Dick Cheney this week, one could be forgiven the impression that he is still looking for Iraqis to greet Americans as liberators. Except that he’s probably looking in all the same places where his boss, former President George W. Bush, is still looking for the WMDs he warned of to justify this invasion.

    Remarkably, Cheney and the neo-cons who helped sell it are marking this occasion by trying to spin this worst foreign-policy blunder in U.S. history as a success. But nothing demonstrates how delusional they are quite like Iraqi insurgents mocking this occasion by setting off bombs all over Baghdad yesterday.

    images-1I duly commented over the years on all of the reasons why this war was such a tragic mistake. But all one has to do to convey this point is cite a few statistics: almost 4,500 Americans dead, over 32,000 maimed and wounded; almost 100,000 Iraqis dead, hundreds of thousands maimed and wounded; $2 trillion (and counting) wasted; and no WMDs found.

    Indeed, given these statistics, I fully appreciate why sensible people are marking this occasion by wallowing in all that went wrong with this war. But I’d rather do so by reprising a commentary that offers the only hope America has of not repeating somewhere else the mistakes of Iraq (i.e., the way it so blithely repeated in Iraq the mistakes of Vietnam).

    Incidentally, given the Iraqi precedent, the trip-wire reports coming out of Syria yesterday about Assad using WMDs on his people seem far more cynical than coincidental. But the scary truth is that when a government cries wolf in such spectacular, venal, and tragic fashion as the U.S. government did to attack Iraq, chances are very good that, even if it has just cause to attack Syria, most people will accuse it of just crying wolf … again. In fact, this informed cynicism might prove the Iraq war’s most tragic legacy of all….

    In the meantime, here for your edification is Support the Draft to Prevent Stupid Wars, The iPINIONS Journal, March 14, 2007.

    ____________________

    draftc-724866It is arguable that the first strategic blunder President George W. Bush made in his “war on terror” was his failure to endorse HR 3598, the Universal Military Training and Services Act, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. And his blunder was made all the more egregious (and curious) given that this Bill to reinstate the Draft was introduced in December 2001 by members of his own Republican Party, Nick Smith of Michigan and Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania.

    After all, nothing is more responsible for the bedeviling success of the insurgents in Iraq (and the resurgence of the Taleban in Afghanistan) than Bush’s refusal to deploy enough soldiers to win these wars. This, despite pleadings by his most respected military advisers, including his Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, for Bush to deploy 4 to 5 times the number of troops he finally ordered into battle.

    It’s not surprising, therefore, that Bush is now surging troops into Iraq to salvage a mission that, alas, now seems unsalvageable. What is surprising, however, is that so many of those who urged him to deploy more troops, including Powell, Shinseki, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, actually supported his vow to veto HR 3598. Because, given the size of the military in 2003, it was practically absurd for them to think that Bush could deploy up to 500,000 in the Middle East without a Draft (or cyborgs) to pick up the slack elsewhere.

    Meanwhile, the Pentagon has actually conceded, albeit unwittingly, the need for a military Draft. Because after just four months of the now four-year war in Iraq, most Americans had already lost that jingoistic (post-9/11) zeal to fight. And, consequently, recruiters at home have been expressing as much frustration about their efforts to enlist volunteer soldiers as generals in Iraq have been expressing about their efforts to defeat Iraqi insurgents.

    Yet despite this clear and present need, no prominent member of military has urged Bush to change course and support the Draft. In fact, some of them have argued publicly for him to stay the course. For example, in a Georgetown University article, titled Why the Draft is a Bad Idea, U.S. Army Captain Jason B. Nicholson argued, among other things, that:

    Maintaining a professional all-volunteer force is paramount in our nation’s ability to project its military power most effectively… The current war in Iraq hardly threatens our very existence as a nation-state and the military we possess is amply equipped and manned to fight this war. Those who call for a draft are often those who need not fear its effects.

    But on behalf of the 3,197 dead and thousands of injured troops – many of whom might have been spared if more forces had been deployed – I felt compelled to respond to Captain Nicholson’s article; and did, in part, as follows:

    We are merely proffering the morally imperative and self-evident truth that politicians would be more circumspect about sending Americans to war if their loved ones were obligated to serve.

    Meanwhile, generals are complaining that they do not have enough troops to execute their missions; volunteers are being forced to endure extended tours of duty; and recruitment is so anemic that the military is lowering its (physical and educational) standards for enlistment to fill its ranks (promoting 42-year-old mothers as lean, mean fighting machines?).

    Therefore, I was heartened last November when Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York, himself a former Army Sergeant, raised the issue of the Draft again – as a political and moral imperative. Although I knew full well that there was neither the political will nor moral courage among members of both parties to reinstate it.

    Indeed, because I am so acutely aware that Congress will do so only under public pressure, I was very encouraged on Sunday when 60 Minutes Commentator Andy Rooney, who was drafted in 1941 to fight in WWII, registered his influential support for the Draft as follows:

    Now comes the part of this I never thought I’d hear myself say: Whenever we, as a nation, decide to fight a war – in Iraq or anywhere else – it should be fought by average Americans who are drafted.

    To clarify, by “average Americans,” Andy means every eligible American should serve; not just the poor, dumb suckers who join the Army when they grow tired of flipping burgers. And, with today’s technology and access to information, people like VP Dick Cheney (who has been quoted as saying that he did not serve in Vietnam because “I had other priorities in the 60s than military service”) and former President Bill Clinton (who did the same by feigning conscientious objection) won’t be able to dodge the Draft quite so blithely.

    So, forget the pissing contest in Congress over withdrawal plans and tell your representative to support the Draft to end this stupid war in Iraq!!

    Related Articles:
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    Rep Charlie Rangel calls for the Draft
    Only dumb kids join the Army

  • Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 5:43 AM

    ‘The Bible’- Proselytizing and Perpetuating Racial Stereotypes

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    My evangelical parents made me not just read The Holy Bible but memorize much of it the way other kids memorized nursery rhymes.  This is why I have been so utterly stupefied over the years by the number of self-professed Christians who have never even opened this “good book,” let alone read it.

    THE HISTORY CHANNEL THE BIBLEBut now these religious dunces have a savior in Mark Burnett, famed for producing such popular TV shows as Survivor and The Apprentice. Because Burnett and his actress wife Roma Downey are the producers of “The Bible,” a made-for-TV mini-series, that is such a hit that it’s drawing more viewers than American Idol.

    Specifically, I suspect nothing is more inspiring to many of those tuning in than to think they can learn all they need to know about The Holy Bible from Burnett’s TV show. Better still that watching it makes reading even the “CliffsNotes” version seem like a seminarian’s chore.

    The problem of course is that far too many Christians believe the contents of The Holy Bible are not just historical fact but, literally, the word of God. They really believe, for example, that we all descended from Adam and Eve; that God appeared as a burning bush to command Moses to lead the Jews out of bondage; and that Jesus was born by Immaculate Conception to the Virgin Mary.  By contrast, even before I became a teenager I experienced the divine revelation that The Holy Bible is rife with as many fairytales, fables, myths, and legends as Homer’s The Odyssey.

    article-2295082-18BFDB35000005DC-849_636x381In which case you’d think an enlightened soul like me would not be the least bit bothered by the artistic license Burnett took in depicting Jesus as White and Satan as Black. Well, in light of the righteous indignation this has incited, let me first clarify that I am not at all bothered that his Satan bears a passing resemblance to President Barack Obama. For, unlike most commentators, I do not impute any political agenda or racial bias to Burnett in this respect.

    Instead, what bothers me is his lazy decision to portray good and evil in stereotypically racial terms. After all, he can argue – even if only to boost his racial pride – that Jesus was White because he was a Semitic human being. But he cannot argue that Satan was Black because, after supposedly getting kicked out of Heaven, he (or it) was never anything but an evil spirit.

    Which means that it required some racist thought on Burnett’s part to portray Satan as Black – especially given that the most evil people in the history of mankind (who can fairly be deemed Satan incarnate) have all, in fact, been White. (Incidentally, if you believe angels were/are in Heaven, do you believe they were/are all White – as generally depicted…?)

    I appreciate that some fans of this mini-series might defend Burnett by citing his portrayal of more heroic and sympathetic characters like Samson and at least one of the Three Wise Men as Black. Indeed, I know firsthand that these depictions imbued some Blacks with racial pride – as I suspect Burnett knew it would.

    But this would amount to giving him a pass just because he portrayed the way these characters looked with some regard for historical accuracy.  One can deduce this based on the fact that all of the main characters in The Holy Bible hailed from places where people actually looked more African and Mediterranean than European and Scandinavian. And it behooves one to make this elementary deduction particularly in the case of Jesus Christ because the good book is conspicuously, perhaps even devilishly, silent on what he looked like.

    imagesGranted, you’d never know this given popular portrayals of these characters – most notably in Hollywood movies. Indeed, this is why, despite Burnett’s Black Samson, the face of White Italian-American actor Victor Mature – who played the title role in Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah – will come to mind when most people think of this Biblical character. Not to mention that, in making Samson actually look Black, Burnett might have been playing into racial stereotypes about the physical prowess of Black men….

    Whatever the case, there seems no doubt that, in making Jesus White and Satan Black, Burnett is proselytizing and perpetuating insidious and pernicious racial stereotypes. It’s a canard worthy of The Clansman.

    Therefore, just bear this in mind folks: if Burnett wanted to be historically correct, his Jesus would look more like his Samson. Instead, he looks like every other Eurocentric depiction of Jesus that has more to do with historical delusions of White supremacy than divine allusions to the word of God.

    images-1 1.44.17 PM

    Jesus probably did have some African links – after all the conventional theory is that he lived as a child in Egypt where, presumably, his appearance did not make him stand out…

    [I]f the past 2,000 years of Western art were the judge, Jesus would be white, handsome, probably with long hair and an ethereal glow… [But] it can almost certainly be said that Jesus would not have been white.

    (BBC, October 27, 2004)

    Is there any wonder why Hell will freeze over before Catholics elect a Black pope…?

    Screen-shot-2010-07-09-at-9.21.57-AM1-560x667

    That said, “The Bible’s” biggest sin is not the artistic license Burnett took with his casting. Rather, it’s the decision executives at the History Channel took to carry this greatest story ever sold. They should have sent Burnett over to the Disney Channel, where make-believe TV belongs.

    Accordingly, I pray: “Let’s Bring History Back To The History Channel,” and leave all of the “scripted reality” programming to the entertainment networks.

    Amen.

  • Monday, March 18, 2013 at 6:51 AM

    Is Nothing Sacred? ‘Being Mandela’ – the Reality-TV Show?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.

    (Andy Warhol, 1968)

    There is no denying that the Kardashians have made a mockery of Warhol’s well-known aphorism by extending their 15 minutes of vacuous fame for many years, and counting.

    But from the time Anna Nicole Smith did so over a decade ago, I have always felt that it speaks volumes about the dumbing down of American culture that people can attain such enduring fame and stupendous fortune by doing nothing more than turning their self-indulgent daily lives into a soap opera for reality-TV.  Now everyone is emulating Anna Nicole by turning their Facebook page and Twitter account into this brand of reality-TV.

    Apropos of this, I submit that only pathological narcissists with pea for brains would compromise what little dignity they have by, among other things, airing their dirty laundry on TV. And those who do it on social networks for free must therefore be dumber than dumb.

    BEING-MANDELA-HEADERAll of which compels one to wonder why the granddaughters of Nelson Mandela, easily the most revered and dignified politician in the world today, would want to sully his good name by having the Mandelas try to keep up with the Kardashians.

    Like every family, there’s a bit of drama here and there, but we’re very respectful of our name and we’re very respectful of our grandparent’s legacy and we’re very mindful of that. In anything that we try to do, we always try to maintain the integrity of the family.

    (Huffington Post, February 9, 2013)

    This was granddaughter Swati trying in vain to rationalize why Being Mandela will be to Keeping Up with the Kardashians what filet mignon is to hot dogs. Never mind that watching how filet mignon is made is probably every bit as retching as watching how hot dogs are made.

    Which is why I can think of no socially redeeming value in the Mandelas airing their dirty laundry on TV the way the Kardashians do. And God forbid they cast Mandela as a feature player in their faux story lines to boost ratings.  Because:

    He’s treated more as a tourist attraction these days (like the Statue of Liberty or, perhaps more to the point, a Carnival freak worthy of being shot by Charles Eisenmann) than as an elder statesman.

    (“Zuma Snubs Obama (Michelle that is), The iPINIONS Journal, June 24, 2011)

    imagesNo doubt you are aware of politicians and celebrities making pilgrimages to Mandela’s home for a photo op with him, which invariably looks like a snapshot from a South African version of Weekend At Bernie’s.

    It’s bad enough that South Africans are aping this pathetically contrived and frivolous feature of American culture.  But watching the Mandelas become to South Africa what the Kardashians are to America is just too disheartening for words.

    To be fair though, I suppose if anybody is entitled to exploit Mandela for political or financial gain, it is his granddaughter.

    Former wife of South African icon NelsonBut, in this spirit, surely a reality-TV show featuring Mandela’s ex-wife Winnie would provide more of the train-wreck spectacle that makes such shows must-see TV.

    Especially given that just yesterday this notorious rabble-rouser was expressing “surprise and shock” that she is facing murder charges … again. This stems from allegations that she ordered her bodyguards, who were allegedly also serving as her private gigolos, to kill two young boys 24 years ago whom she suspected of spying on her liberation movement.

    Clearly the wacky and salacious Anna Nicole Smith had nothing on Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

    Related commentaries:
    Zuma snubs Obama

  • Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 6:28 PM

    Habemus Papam: Hail, Francis!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    article-2292549-18A3D6F0000005DC-727_964x436

    I must confess that when the Vatican introduced Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new pope this afternoon, I was not inspired.

    To be fair, this probably had more to do with how little of the Holy Spirit resides in me (the son of a preacher man) than with any failure on Bergoglio’s part to inspire. But perhaps it’s because I was too distracted by the spectacle of so many experts on the Vatican Curia and Papal Conclave wiping egg off their faces.

    After all, despite all of their pontification in recent days, you’d be hard-pressed to recall a single one who even mentioned Bergoglio’s name, let alone one who picked him to be the anointed one. So bear this in mind when you hear these same experts pontificating now about what his papacy portends for the Catholic Church.

    I, for one, am humble enough to admit that I knew nothing about Bergoglio before today, and I know even less about what impact, if any, he will have. Not least because I’ll be damned if I can cite any significant impact Pope Benedict had on the Church.

    The prevailing wisdom is that Bergoglio intends to return the Church to its basic mission of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. Arguably, he telegraphed his intent by choosing Francis as his papal name, paying homage to St. Francis of Assisi—who was a bone fide champion of the poor.

    Hell, to listen to some papal experts extol his humility, simplicity, and spartan lifestyle (all pursuant to the Jesuitical vow of poverty), you’d think Bergoglio were going to shun the rich trappings of the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo to live in an Italian hostel and take the bus to church.

    But think about this folks: Is Pope Francis going to instruct the Curia to redistribute what remains of the Church’s ostentatious wealth, after settling child-sex abuse cases, to caring for the poor? I don’t think so. In fact, the Church is already closing schools for the poor instead of selling valuable artworks and other material possessions to settle these cases.

    On the other hand, he might instruct the cardinals (aka the “princes” of the Church for Christ’s sake) to follow his example by giving up their fancy apartments, cooks, and chauffeured limousines.  But I suspect cardinals will be even less willing to follow the pope’s instruction in this respect than lay Catholics have been to follow the cardinals’ instruction with respect to contraception.

    Of course, that the pope is only doing what Jesus would do indicates how much leaders of the Catholic Church have perverted and corrupted their holy mission. Indeed, that Bergoglio is the first pope to honor St. Francis is testament to how little interest even his predecessors have had throughout the ages in living lives of humility, simplicity, and poverty … as Jesus did.

    Much is being made of the historic firsts his election represents. Most notably, he is the first pope to hail from Latin America – the region that accounts for almost 40 percent of Catholics worldwide and where the Church is experiencing its fastest growth. I fear, however, that expectations for his papacy to usher in radical or even moderate change will be dashed.

    For it’s not as if Benedict did not sermonize about the social injustice that has the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.  What’s more, I’m on record warning that Latinos (and Africans) are more Catholic than the pope when it comes to all of the social issues – like abortion, homosexuality (same-sex marriage), and contraception – that most Catholics in Europe and the United States care so deeply about. And, frankly, Pope Francis stands even less chance of changing the Church’s culture of sexual hypocrisy, perversion,  and conspiracy than Obama stands of changing Washington’s culture of political partisanship, pettifoggery, and gridlock.

    In fact, the only thing I did find surprising about his election is that, at 76, Francis presents all of the concerns about physical health that caused Benedict to resign. Unless, of course, this is the Lord’s way of saying to the Catholic Church that popes should be term-limited just as presidents and prime ministers are. Which means that, like Benedict, he may be perfectly fit to serve for eight years before resigning … or dying.

    That said, with due respect to all of the experts commenting on this momentous event, it seems I’m the only one who predicted something that actually came through. No doubt it’s inconvenient for them to recall now, but virtually every expert was speculating about the prospect of a Black pope in the days after Benedict resigned. Remember that?

    By contrast, I sounded the following contrarian, though now prescient, note:

    Trust me, despite all of the religious rhetoric about cardinals being guided by the Holy Spirit, the election of a pope is every bit as political as the election of a president…  All the same, for what it’s worth, I believe the ‘Holy Spirit’ will move the cardinals to elect a Latino before they elect a Black.

    (“The Abdication of Pope Benedict XVI,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 12, 2013)

    I reasoned many years before that:

    Even the more catholic Catholics of the world are not ready to kiss the hand (and feet) of a Black man as their Holy Father.

    (“Black Pope = Black Smoke?” The iPINIONS Journal, April 6, 2005)

    Though politically incorrect, there’s no denying that my apostasy in this regard is affirmed by the fact that, in electing Bergoglio of Argentina, the Catholic Church has as White a non-White pope as possible, from the most European country outside Europe as possible, who is as close to being European as any non-European can possibly be (as the son of Italian immigrants).

    Change…? Don’t hold your breath.

    Related commentaries:
    Abdication of Benedict

    NOTE: The Holy Spirit moved me to interrupt my fishing to write this commentary. Not that I was catching anything….

  • Friday, March 8, 2013 at 11:01 AM

    International Women’s Day

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    iwd_square

    Annually on 8 March, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements. A global web of rich and diverse local activity connects women from all around the world ranging from political rallies, business conferences, government activities and networking events through to local women’s craft markets, theatric performances, fashion parades and more.

    (International Women’s Day 2013)

    Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 8.46.01 AM

    We have enough data, as well as anecdotal evidence, from the way women have influenced the corporate world to make some credible extrapolations. The correlation between more women holding positions of power and the implementation of family friendly policies is undeniable in this respect [Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, of no more working from home infamy, notwithstanding].

    Therefore, it’s entirely reasonable to assert that if more women held positions of power in politics they would use their power more towards building up human resources than military armaments – just to cite one obvious example.

    (“Women make better politicians than men,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 14, 2010)

    Related Commentaries:
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  • Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 11:27 AM

    Mother Teresa Is No Saint. She Was a Fraud!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    [I]t is my pleasure to introduce you to my favorite columnist, Christopher Hitchens, a regular contributor to such acclaimed publications as The Atlantic, The Nation, Vanity Fair, Slate, and World Affairs.

    (“Who Outed Valerie Plame?” The iPINIONS Journal, August 31, 2006)

    I always get a kick out of people regaling me about a topic on which I am not only well-versed but have actually written.  Which is why I imagine the late Christopher Hitchens would be getting quite a kick out of commentators waxing shock and dismay this week about a study by Canadian academics which belatedly found, among other things, that:

    Mother Teresa was a product of hype who housed the poor and sick in shoddy conditions, despite her access to a fortune.

    (Huffington Post, March 4, 2013)

    christopher-hitchens-questions-the-reputation-of-a-modern-day-saint-in-without-walls-hells-angel-mother-teresa-774471618After all, Hitchens became a veritable John the Baptist with his polemics debunking the myth of Mother Teresa’s charitable works. Most notable in this respect was his forensic inquiry into the sinful disconnect between the millions she collected (especially from people of plainly dubious reputation) and the trademark squalid conditions of her convents.

    Hell, even I have wondered aloud about the seemingly fetishistic delight she derived from the suffering of the poor, opting for rote prayer (as religious fanatics are wont to do) instead of medical care even for those writhing in easily treatable pain.

    Anyway, here’s how Hitchens crystallized his regard for her – with moral indignation and common sense – in “The Pope Beatifies Mother Teresa, a Fanatic, a Fundamentalist, and a Fraud,” Slate, October 20, 2003:

    [Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty [saying] that suffering was a gift from God. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go?

    And here’s a truly damning excerpt from the Amazon.com review of his 1995 book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice:

    The most riveting material in the book is contained in two letters: one from Mother Teresa to Judge Lance Ito – then weighing what sentence to dole out to the convicted Keating [who bilked investors of billions of dollars] – which cited all the work Keating has done ‘to help the poor,’ and another from a Los Angeles deputy D.A., Paul Turley, back to Mother Teresa that eloquently stated that rather than working to reduce Keating’s sentence, she should return the money he gave her to its rightful owners, the defrauded bond-holders.

    __________________

    thIndeed, based on the particulars of indictment in this book alone, which effectively paint Mother Teresa as the Bernie Madoff of Catholic charities, one would have thought the Catholic Church would feel a moral obligation to rebuke her. Instead, Pope John Paul II was purportedly inspired by God in 2003 to put her on the fast track to sainthood. (She died in 1997.)

    But far be it from me to question the moral rectitude of that or any Pope (although I suppose I’d be forgiven for doing so in light of recent revelations which suggest that moral turpitude and Machiavellian shenanigans are, and have always been, as pervasive in Vatican City as they are, and have always been, in Rome). Not surprisingly, Hitchens suffered no scruples in this respect. For, in the above-referenced sermon published in Slate, here’s how he exposed the all too human vainglory that inspired Pope John Paul II to breach common practice to make her a saint right away:

    According to an uncontradicted report in the Italian paper L’Eco di Bergamo, the Vatican’s secretary of state sent a letter to senior cardinals in June, asking on behalf of the Pope whether they favored making MT a saint right away. The response was in the negative… The Pope’s clear intention has been to speed the process up in order to perform the ceremony in his own lifetime.

    Frankly, given all of the diabolical sins Catholic priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes have committed over the years, it might be more fitting for the new Pope to be vested with devil horns and fisherman’s trident instead of papal crown and fisherman’s ring.

    Amen.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    Remembering Chávez…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Nobody should have been shocked yesterday afternoon when Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez finally died after a well-publicized, two-year battle against cancer.

    imagesNor, shamefully enough, should anybody have been shocked when so many in the United States joined a virtual conga line to dance on his grave … even before his body went cold. Which stood in stark contrast to the outpouring of grief and sorrow the announcement of his death evoked in almost every other country in the Americas….

    Mind you, these dancing Americans are the same ones who always fulminated with indignation against Chávez’s provocative anti-American remarks, the highlight of which was calling former President George W. Bush “el diablo” (the devil) during a UN address in 2006.

    To be sure, the defining feature of Chávez’s 14-year presidency was the way he used the United States as a bogeyman to justify his socialist agenda at home and foment his Bolivarian Revolution abroad.

    But instead of adding to the unseemliness of those reveling in his death, I shall reprise excerpts from a few of commentaries I’ve written over the years as a more fitting tribute:

    images-3

    Like Castro – Chávez has become a real pain in the elephantine butt of the United States…

    His fraternizing with Castro is the least of his perceived impertinences: he has befriended unrepentant communists in China and Russia and touted them as more worthy partners in the exploration and exploitation of Venezuela’s oil; he has even threatened, repeatedly, to cut-off Venezuela’s daily supply of a desperately needed 1.5 million barrels of oil to the United States; he is flirting with the ‘hostile’ notion of purchasing a fleet of advanced military jets and helicopters from Russia; and his South American neighbors (Columbia in particular) are complaining that he’s aiding and abetting leftist rebels throughout the region.

    Given the above, devotees of American imperial power might think it’s no wonder Chávez has been targeted for assassination. Of course, Bush maintains that he has no intention of killing Chávez … but that ‘all options remain on the table’ to deal with him.

    Take cover Hugo!

    [Least you think this is farfetched, bear in mind that the CIA abetted a harebrained ‘rich-man’ coup d’état against him in 2002. However, like all CIA attempts to depose Castro, this one failed. Chávez survived and was firmly back in power within two days.]

    (“Chávez: Bush Is Trying to Kill Me!” The iPINIONS Journal, February 24, 2005)

    Then came Sunday’s opening session of the three-day annual meeting of the OAS where, in stark contrast to last year’s meeting at which they heralded Chávez as the anti-Bush godfather of the Americas, erstwhile Chávez allies – including delegations from Brazil, Peru and Nicaragua – decried his hegemonic meddling throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, much as they once decried meddling by U.S. presidents.

    (“Setbacks for Chávez’s Socialist Revolution in Latin America,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 6, 2006)

    Although I am loath to suggest that Chávez is selling snake, not crude, oil, I have grave misgivings about the viability of PetroCaribe as an alternative to the FTAA and about its potential as a reliable source of ‘discounted’ energy for Caribbean countries…

    Caribbean countries should be mindful of the significant geopolitical implications of this initiative. Especially since Chávez evidently regards it as a means of consolidating the political alliance he forged last year when he got Caribbean countries to abandon their traditional deference to the United States in order to support his candidate for president of the Organisation of American States (OAS).

    (“PetroCaribe: Let’s Look This Gift Horse in the Mouth,” Caribbean Net News, June 30, 2006)

    images-2

    With Chávez ruling his country like a truly benign despot – afflicting the comfortable (by, among other things, confiscating their land to redistribute among peasants as cooperative farms) and comforting the afflicted (by, among other things, using Venezuela’s oil wealth to provide comprehensive welfare programs) – Rosales  [the opposition presidential candidate] did not have a chance…

    Henceforth I shall refrain from calling Chávez a ‘Castro wannabe.’ After all … having won two democratic elections, Chávez has earned the right to be distinguished – as a benign dictator – from Castro, who was never anything but a ruthless dictator for whom democratic elections were like the plague.

    (“Viva Chávez!” The iPINIONS Journal, December 4, 2006)

    Nobody should be surprised that Chávez is moving so aggressively to nationalize the key sectors of Venezuela’s economy. Nor should anyone be surprised that he is emulating his mentor Fidel Castro by squashing political dissent (e.g., by refusing to renew the broadcast license of Radio Caracas Television because he deemed their criticism of his policies “treasonous”).

    After all, regardless of what one thinks about his form, in substance, Chávez is one of the most honest national leaders on the world stage today. Not least because no leader has ever subjected himself to free and fair elections – during which he made plain his intent to wield dictatorial powers – and won as clear a mandate as Chávez did to implement his socialist agenda.

    (“Why All the Outrage Against Chavez…,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 12, 2007)

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    In a wholly predictable redo of his earlier defeat, Chávez won a resounding victory on Sunday on a referendum that will allow him to serve now as president for life

    The Bolivarian Revolution is a process whereby Chávez seizes control of the country’s oil revenues and confiscates private homes and businesses to put them all ‘at the service of Venezuela.’ Concomitant with this, he implements political and economic reforms to create his version of a socialist paradise … which he hopes to replicate throughout the Americas.

    Now it seems only death by natural causes will prevent Chávez from emulating Castro; i.e., by using Venezuela as a laboratory for quixotic socialist policies for more than 50 years … come what may…

    Despite his resources, however, I fear that, just as poor Cubans have little to show for having lived through Castro’s reign, poor Venezuelans will have no more to show for having lived through Chávez’s…

    As one who still finds socialism politically redeeming, I am profoundly disappointed that Chávez has squandered a golden opportunity during his decade in power to vindicate this ideology in practice.

    (“Viva Chávez … Again,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 17, 2009)

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    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin traveled to Venezuela a week ago today to sign a series of multibillion-dollar agreements with President-for-life Hugo Chávez. These agreements are purportedly aimed not only at helping Chávez build a space industry and develop a nuclear program but also at deepening military, energy and financial ties between their two countries…

    Given ongoing international efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, does anyone think Venezuela stands a snowball’s chance in Hell of even building a nuclear plant?!

    But who can blame [Putin] for treating Chávez like a rich fool to be parted with his money (by selling him snowballs to take to Hell … to complete the metaphor)? As for his space program, well, perhaps Chávez is planning to finally develop that vacant space between his ears…

    (“Russians Treat Chavez like a Rich Fool,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 10, 2010)

    b3644472d8cd51072b0f6a706700e267

    Apropos of death by natural causes, it now seems that Chávez’s nine lives might be cut in half not by the CIA, but by cancer. Because earlier this year … he announced that he was receiving treatment in Cuba for an unspecified form of cancer.

    (“Chávez’s Mortal Enemy Now is Cancer, Not the CIA,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 11, 2011)

    Pre-election reports in the United Sates gave the impression that 40-year-old challenger Henrique Capriles was poised to dethrone Hugo Chávez on Sunday as president of Venezuela.

    But I knew better… Chávez now has another six-year mandate to continue his Bolivarian Revolution at home while fomenting it abroad. What’s more, I am now more convinced than ever that only death will end his reign.

    (“Viva Chávez … Again, Redux,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 9, 2012)

    And so death has ended his reign.

    2013-02-13T224709Z_1_CBRE91C1RAR00_RTROPTP_2_CNEWS-US-VENEZUELA-CHAVEZBut I would caution all those now hoping that what Chávez wrought will be buried along with him. Because all indications are that his handpicked successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, will win the presidential election that is now constitutionally required to be held within 30 days.

    More to the point, Maduro has already made clear his Chavismo intent to continue Chávez’s policies at home and abroad, and to do so with the same anti-American rhetoric — even if without Chávez’s inimitable charisma and flair.

    To signal this intent, Maduro paid tribute to Chávez’s death by expelling two American diplomats and declaring his firm belief that the cancer that killed him was:

    … induced by the historical enemies of our homeland.

    (Associated Press, March 2, 2013)

    Chávez died in hospital in Venezuela yesterday. He was 58.

    Related commentaries:
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    Setbacks for Chávez
    PetroCaribe
    Viva Chávez
    Why all the outrage
    Viva Chávez
    Chávez’s mortal enemy
    Viva Chávez…redux

  • Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 7:44 AM

    Kim Jong-un to Rodman for Obama: No, Not Maybe, Call Me!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Given the way real news anchors delivered their “Weekend Update” on former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea, one could be forgiven for thinking they were substituting for comedian Seth Meyers on Saturday Night Live.

    Rodman visited along with a film crew last week to shoot an exhibition basketball game as part of an HBO documentary featuring members of the Harlem Globetrotters. This exhibition was heartily welcomed by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un – whose love of the game apparently rivals that of any rabid fan in the United States. (He evidently inherited this love from his father who was known to be such a fan that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright decided in 2000 to deliver a basketball autographed by Michael Jordan as a “goodwill gift.” Alas, the goodwill dissipated when she departed.)

    imagesBut everyone is ridiculing Rodman for hailing Kim as his new best friend forever (BFF) and sharing the message he claims Kim asked him to convey to President Obama:

    He wants Obama to do one thing: Call him. He said, ‘If you can, Dennis — I don’t want [to] do war. I don’t want to do war.’ He said that to me.

    (Rodman on ABC’s This Week, March 3, 2013)

    I submit, however, that those scoffing at this basketball diplomacy are probably too ignorant to appreciate Rodman’s informed hope that it could do for U.S.-North Korea relations what Ping-Pong diplomacy did for U.S.-China relations…. Indeed, I challenge anyone to cite any words that any politician, pundit or diplomat has ever uttered about opening the “hermit kingdom” of North Korea to the world that are more instructive and pithy than these words Rodman uttered:

    [Kim] loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said, ‘Obama loves basketball.’ Let’s start there.

    (“Bizarre,” TIME, March 4, 2013)

    Hell, for all we know, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger might well have initiated his greatest foreign-policy achievement, opening the hermit kingdom of China to the world, by uttering similar seemingly innocuous words to President Richard Nixon in 1971, namely:

    Mao loves ping-pong. Mr. President, you love ping pong. Let’s start there.

    But let me hasten to concede that Rodman is a court jester who is having the time of his life strutting his stuff on the world stage. And it behooves us to remember that court jesters blurt out some of the wisest words in all of Shakespeare’s plays. Still I pity him for continually displaying the intellectual and emotional intelligence of an unloved, if not abused, child. Only this explains his delusional, solicitous declarations of personal friendship with Kim.

    All the same, the joke is not on Rodman or Kim.  It’s on Obama and other Western leaders who have been trying in vain to get Kim to stop flexing his nuclear muscle on the Korean Peninsula.

    For nothing betrays the absurdity and fecklessness inherent in their efforts quite like Obama continually threatening Kim with sanctions without ever bothering to talk to him. This is the kind of ridiculous cowboy diplomacy we expected of George W. Bush, not Obama; not least because Obama himself promised a more sensible approach.

    Here, for example, is what he pledged during his 2008 presidential campaign – courtesy of “Talk vs. Don’t Talk,” MinnPost, May 5, 2008:

    The United States is trapped by the Bush-Cheney approach to diplomacy that refuses to talk to leaders we don’t like. Not talking doesn’t make us look tough – it makes us look arrogant, it denies us opportunities to make progress, and it makes it harder for America to rally international support for our leadership. Obama is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe.

    Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 3.43.17 PMTo be fair, Obama appears to be finally laying the groundwork for direct talks with America’s number-one foe, Iran. But he has had over four years to pursue his new approach. Yet all he has done to date with respect to North Korea (and virtually every other foreign-policy challenge he inherited) is adopt the Bush-Cheney, cold-shoulder approach.

    And after watching White House spokesman Jay Carney pour scorn on Kim’s request/plea yesterday, I fear Obama is determined to continue emulating Bush here too:

    Instead of spending money on celebrity sporting events to entertain the elites of that country, the North Korean regime should focus on the well-being of its own people who have been starved, imprisoned, and denied their human rights.

    (The Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2013)

    Meanwhile, the ignorance inherent in Rodman dismissing reports about Kim repeatedly threatening war, starving his people, and putting others in prison camps is easily surpassed by the hypocrisy inherent in successive U.S. presidents, and now Obama himself, not just talking to, but actually dealing with Chinese leaders whose record of human rights abuses is far worse than Kim’s. Not to mention that, while U.S. presidents were having tea with Soviet leaders throughout the Cold War, thousands of political prisoners (like Natan Sharansky) were wasting away in Soviet prison camps.

    rodmanwire2n-4-webSo instead of just dismissing Rodman as Kim’s useful idiot and getting Americans to laugh at him, news anchors and political commentators should be pointing out what a laughing stock the United States has become when one freakish basketball player like him can provide more intelligence about and diplomatic access to a national foe than the CIA and the Department of State, combined.

    For, despite high-profile visits by former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson and Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Rodman is the first U.S. citizen to actually speak with this enigmatic North Korean leader since he inherited power from his father, Kim Jung-il, in 2011.

    Which is why it smacks of jealousy and spite that the Obama Administration suddenly announced new sanctions against North Korea today. Never mind that this move is bound to incite another temper tantrum in baby Kim, causing him to unleash even more bellicose rhetoric towards the United States and South Korea, the country that exists warily as the proverbial Abel to North Korea’s Cain. Or, for that matter, that it is bound to cause more North Koreans to starve to death more rapidly.

    A (tragic) joke indeed!

    Related commentaries:
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  • Monday, March 4, 2013 at 7:28 AM

    Hagel Confirmation: Republicans Putting Party Above Country

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I usually reserve updates for the annual book version of my commentaries. But I feel constrained to put my two cents in on the spectacle that attended the confirmation of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary. Especially because it so epitomizes the dysfunction that has the U.S. government now running on “sequester” mode, triggering automatic, across-the-board budget cuts.

    Specifically, it speaks volumes about the polarizing times in which we live that the Senate voted essentially along party lines last week to confirm Hagel 58-41 — with only four Republicans joining all Democrats.

    He will take office with the weakest support of any defense secretary in modern history, which will make him less effective in his job.

    (Bloomberg, February 26, 2013)

    This is how Senator John Cornyn of Texas took perverse pride in the way Republicans did everything possible to undermine the effectiveness of the man responsible for executing policies to keep America safe. This included the dubious distinction of filibustering a president’s nominee for defense secretary for the first time in U.S. history.

    abc_senator_chuck_hagel_hearing_thg_130131_wgWhich meant that, instead of a simple majority of the 100 senators to be confirmed, Hagel had to get three-fifths of them to vote to end the Republican filibuster. In other words, if 60 senators did not vote to end the filibuster, his nomination would have been dead. Thankfully, regard for the institutional integrity of the Senate remains such that enough Republicans joined with all Democrats to end the Republican filibuster by a vote of 71-27.

    Mind you, customary practice dictates that, even if a senator thinks a nominee is unqualified, presidential prerogative and institutional comity entitle that nominee to a straight up-or-down vote to win a simple majority. Not least because, as commander in chief, the president is obviously better positioned than any senator to determine the qualifications of nominees to serve.

    This is why the real story here is the lengths to which Republicans went to betray this practice. I alluded to some of their efforts in my January 31 commentary on Hagel’s Senate hearing. But here’s a summary of their betrayal — courtesy of a February 26, 2013 report by ThinkProgress:

    Senate Republicans, spent two-and-a-half months trying to prevent Hagel’s nomination and eventual confirmation, mostly by promoting false claims and smears that Hagel is an anti-Semite, anti-Israel and pro-Iran, all of which with either debunked or lacked to stick. Hagel’s detractors then turned to a kitchen-sink strategy by distorting his record and making wild claims, for example that Hagel accepted money from America’s enemies and that the former Republican senator has ties to, as it turns out, non-existent terror groups.

    Clearly, all of this would be bad enough even if Republicans were motivated by a genuine concern for the safety of the country. The truth, alas, is that they conspired to assassinate Hagel’s character in this fashion merely as payback for the way he routinely defied party orthodoxy.

    Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 6.34.59 PMMost notably, he incurred their wrath for criticizing former President George W. Bush’s decision to escalate U.S. involvement in Iraq. In fact, no less a person than Republican Senator John McCain betrayed their vindictive and petty-minded motive as follows:

    There’s a lot of ill will towards Senator Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly, at one point said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover, said the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War.

    (FOX News, February 14, 2013)

    For the record, Hagel is still a Republican, and history has proved him right with respect to the surge.

    But I cannot overstate the point that defense secretaries have always commanded overwhelming bipartisan support, receiving no more than a handful of protest votes. This is because it was always understood that it is in the nation’s security interest for them to be unaffected by politics. No doubt this is why Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri felt compelled to sound this cautionary note:

    I sincerely hope that the practice of challenging nominations with innuendo and inference, rather than facts and figures, was an aberration and not a road map.

    (MSN News, February 26, 2013)

    Sadly, as indicated above, this episode reflects the increasingly dysfunctional nature of politics in America today. It also affirms my view that Republicans are behaving like Taliban jihadists who think their political ideology is the word of God.

    Only their my-way-or-the-highway approach to governing explains why, notwithstanding that compromise is absolutely necessary for any democracy to function, even the Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner, thinks merely uttering the word “comprise” is tantamount to political heresy. And only racism explains why this is first time in U.S. history politicians would rather not only betray previously held principles but actually sabotage national defense and economic growth just to rationalize their hatred of a sitting president.

    All of which constrains me to reiterate that Republicans will do anything to vindicate their spin about Obama failing to lead, all while doing everything they can to undermine his leadership.

    God help the United States of America….

    Related commentaries:
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  • Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 6:46 AM

    U.S. says China is a superpower cyber thief. China says it takes one to know one…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    cybertheft

  • Friday, March 1, 2013 at 6:48 AM

    Castro’s (White) Successor Highlights Racism in Cuba

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I am among those who have been agitating for years for the United States to lift its hypocritical, unconscionable, and demonstrably misguided embargo against Cuba. Not least because the people who have been (and are being) harmed most by it are poor Cubans, the majority of whom are Black.

    Instead of merely extolling the Pope’s moral authority, President Bush should rise above political pandering and heed his call to end America’s inhumane and immoral embargo against Cuba. After all, when a communist dictator can claim papal sanction to dismiss the president of the United States as a hypocrite, this alone should cause a God fearing president like George W. Bush to reexamine his policies, if not his soul.

    (“President Bush, Seal Your and Pope’s Legacy, Lift Embargo Against Cuba,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 11, 2005)

    I have even suggested that the same moral and pragmatic principle that is leading President Obama to break with his predecessors to hold direct talks with Iran (and even with terrorist groups like the Taliban) will lead him to break with his predecessors to lift this embargo….

    But I have always been keen to ensure that my support for lifting the embargo is not mistaken as support for the Castro regime.

    AB0235C6-3600-4786-A5C1-34D827A2755C_w640_r1_sWhich brings me to the announcement Rául Castro (81) made this week. He announced that Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez (52) is, for now, the anointed one to succeed him when his and Fidel’s now 50-year rule comes to an end.

    It is surreal enough that Díaz-Canel will have to cool his heels for another five years until Rául officially retires in 2018. But if Fidel handing power to Rául did not betray all pretense of democracy in Cuba, surely Rául tapping Díaz-Canel as his successor does.

    Even worse, though, is that none of the Castros’ political enablers in Africa or the Caribbean seem the least bit troubled that, despite Cuba being predominantly Black, no Black stood a snowball’s chance in Hell of even being considered to succeed Rául.

    Indeed, the parade of Black democratic leaders visiting Cuba over the years to pay homage to the Castros must have been even more disheartening to Black Cubans than the parade of White democratic leaders visiting South Africa during Apartheid to pay homage to its leaders must have been to Black South Africans.

    Estaban Morales DominguezThis might seem unfairly provocative, if not uniformed, given the now-conventional wisdom of Castro’s propaganda about his revolution ending racial inequality. Except that my contention is supported by no less a person than Dr. Esteban Morales Domínguez, professor of Economics and Political Science at the University of Havana and member of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, in Challenges of the Racial Problem in Cuba (Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 2008).

    Here, courtesy of his research, are just a few apartheid-like statistics about life in Cuba:

    • Cuba’s total civil and public leadership is predominantly White (71%), despite a Black population of somewhere between 62-72%;
    • Privately owned land is 98% White; and
    • Blacks have only 5% interests in State cooperatives and with growing privatizing of land, they will be totally disenfranchised.

    Moreover, here’s how Dr. Morales himself debunked the myth of Castro’s revolution ushering in a new era of racial equality in the October-December 2008 quarterly magazine Temas:

    The way power is distributed in present-day Cuban society does not go beyond what existed prior to 1959. White dominance is still forcefully expressed, especially at the level of what is called the ‘new economy.’ This is especially evident in the absence of Blacks in the upper leadership levels of the state, government and institutions of civil society in general….

    To be fair, Dr. Morales states (and I readily acknowledge) that the Castros did take steps to eradicate institutional racism in the early years of their revolution. But even though recognized as equal in the eyes of the law, Blacks were (and still are) denied equal opportunity to excel in practically every aspect of life in Cuba.

    Indeed, it is a damning indictment of not only Castro’s leadership but also the political judgment of anyone who glorifies him that the vast majority of Black Cubans live in more squalid conditions today – 47 years into his socialist revolution – than they did under the Apartheid-style dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, the man he overthrew.

    (“Dancing on Castro’s Grave Is Not Only Unseemly; It’s Premature,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 2, 2006)

    imagesThis is why I have continually admonished those, especially Blacks, who stand so proudly in solidarity with the Castros to be mindful of the contradiction, if not treachery, inherent in doing so. It is also why I have continually argued for a balance to be struck between calling on the United States to end its embargo and calling on the Castros to end their apartheid-like, totalitarian rule.

    Finally, just as no commentary on Cuba can fail to mention the embargo, none can fail to mention the Cuban exiles who are primarily responsible for keeping it in place. Accordingly, consider this:

    Unbridled conceit and arrogance among Miami Cubans explain their support for continuing the embargo … until kingdom come if necessary. Nothing betrays this quite like them presuming that — once the Castro brothers die off — they’ll be able to return to Cuba to inherit the political power and social privileges they or family members abdicated decades ago. And they presume this prerogative without any regard for the Cubans who have been toiling at home, waiting for their opportunity to govern their country…

    Except that, at this rate, I fear a well-indoctrinated Elian Gonzalez will be Cuban dictator before Miami Cubans are disabused of their antic pining for their paradise lost.

    (“Dancing on Castro’s Grave Is Not Only Unseemly; It’s Premature,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 2, 2006)

    In other words, there is no doubt that, when/if he assumes power, the only mandate Díaz-Canel will recognize is that which compels him to honor the Castros’ legacy.

    ¡Viva la Revolución!…?

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